The 2012 elections are over. Most of our elected officials who have an impact on K-12 education were returned to their offices, with the notable exception of two new Alabama State Board of Education members: Jeff Newman in District 7 and Tracy Roberts in District 1. Current members Gary Warren and Randy McKinney decided not to run for re-election this year.
The dust is settling, and it’s time for us to cozy up to our computers and tell our elected officials what we want for our children’s education and our community’s schools. And that we expect it to be a priority for them! We must be willing to share our thoughts (along with our full names and addresses) with our elected officials in order for them to hear us! Children don’t vote. We are their only advocates.
By the time you have finished reading this, you will have compiled a list of your elected or appointed education officials’ contact information, will have decided what areas of education you are most passionate about, and will have put together a letter (or a script for a telephone call) to contact your public officials.
In speaking with legislators and other public officials at the local and state level, they tell me that they really want to hear directly from parents and families about education and not just special interest groups (like teachers’ professional organizations, superintendents’ professional associations, textbook companies, testing companies, and corporations who profit from public education to name a few). They suggest phone calls and e-mails, but are certainly willing to accept written letters as well. Many will write you back on official letterhead, acknowledging your concern, which makes a great show-and-tell item for students at school.
For inspiration, take a look at the National PTA President’s letter to the President and Congressional leaders asking them to focus on education.
What to Say – What Are Your Priorities? What Are You Passionate About?
Think about your child’s school, your friends’ children’s schools. What is lacking? If your first thought is money, think about what areas specifically are lacking funds. Textbooks? Is the building falling apart? Are the buses 20 years old? Do the teachers need more training? Do salaries for teachers need to be increased? Do more aides need to be hired? Speak from your heart. Speak from what you have seen and witnessed at your child’s school. What do you want from your elected officials?
You can write your thoughts based on gut instinct and observation, or you can take the time to talk with your school’s teachers and principal and other school officials and ask them what they need. Tell them you are going to write to your elected officials as a parent and you want to represent their needs fairly. Believe me, teachers and school officials usually know exactly what is needed in their school to improve student achievement and prepare children for a successful future. Listen to what they say. Question what you don’t understand. These conversations are a great way to get to know each other and may even spark innovative ways for your school community to help your schools!
My personal wish list is at least three pages long. But I know that when I write to my elected officials, I pick the top one or two problems that I want them to address. Prioritize. You can always write another letter. But if you put too much content in your letter, they may skim over much of it. (See below for more info on how to construct your letter.)
Here are some areas to get you thinking about what could be improved:
- Reliance on standardized tests to measure achievement
- Special education services, including personnel
- School choice, including charter schools
- Anti-bullying/harassment prevention efforts
- School buildings
- School buses
- Quality of teachers
- Continued teacher training
- Quality of principals
- Continued principal training
- School resource officers
- Parental and family engagement (do you want more of it at your school?)
- School advisory councils
- Partnerships with local businesses for job training
- Common Core State Standards
- Tying learning to living
- Services for students in poverty
- After school learning opportunities
- Extracurricular offerings (not only athletics, but math teams, chess clubs, band)
- Arts offerings
- Expansion of pre-kindergarten offerings
- Social workers in schools
- Expand “drop back in” programs (where students can come back and earn their high school diploma after having left school)
What does your wish list look like? You know you have these conversations at the ball park, at churches, in the grocery stores, at PTA and PTO meetings, in booster clubs. What are parents talking about? What are teachers talking about? What is important to your school community? In what areas do you need your elected and appointed officials’ help to get your wish list granted?
Maybe you want your elected officials to stop making rules and regulations at the federal and state level, and instead leave it to the local folks. Maybe you believe you need an elected board of education rather than an appointed one (or vice versa). Maybe you want your school and school system to work harder to gather parental input on policy and initiatives and offerings. [Check this out for inspiration: the Birmingham Education Foundation is seeking input through an innovative web site designed for community members to offer ideas and suggestions and help shape educational offerings. Way cool.]
How You Find Out Who Your Elected Government Officials Are